Renowned Science mag changes policy after complaints about pro-trophy hunting letter

African wildlife, a giraffe and zebras
Tracy Keeling

Science magazine has made an important move after receiving complaints about a pro-trophy hunting letter it published. The magazine has revised its policies, including applying them retrospectively, and published a series of further letters which provide counter-arguments on the controversial subject.

Conflicts of interest

In August, Science published an open letter from conservationists that argued against bans on trophy hunting imports, saying the practice has a positive impact on conservation. But as The Canary pointed out at the time, the letter didn’t acknowledge that two of its 133 signatories work for or advise Conservation Force. This is a trophy hunting advocacy group which has charitable status and claims to contribute “over one million dollars each year for on the ground conservation in range countries”.

Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) founder Eduardo Gonçalves and explorer Ranulph Fiennes approached Science after the letter’s publication. They expressed concern to the magazine, saying it had “failed to disclose the conflicts of interest” of the authors of the letter. The letter has 133 signatories – people who signed the letter in support – and five named authors, who are also signatories, responsible for its content. One author, Paul Johnson, has stated he has “no competing interests”.

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Gonçalves and Fiennes included a “dossier” of what they saw as potential conflicts in their complaint.

Until now, Science didn’t require authors of letters to disclose conflicts of interest. It only did so for the authors of manuscripts. That is changing. In an Editor’s Note released on 25 October, it said:

This policy is now under revision to ensure that authors of Letters also make readers aware of financial and advisory competing interests.

It continued, explaining it had asked the authors of the letter to “declare their competing interests”. Science also published a further six letters on the topic of trophy hunting on 25 October. And the authors of those letters had to declare potential conflicts of interest too. These further letters on trophy hunting all challenge assertions made in the letter published in August to varying degrees.

Science also provided the authors of the initial letter the opportunity to respond to those released on 25 October.

Addendum

The authors’ “competing interests” were added in an addendum to their letter. Lead author Amy Dickman, who is a research fellow at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru), declared that she:

is the Director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which has received funding from phototourism (Asilia, Nomad) and hunting nongovernmental organizations (the Dallas Safari Club, and Safari Club International)

Dallas Safari Club (DSC) says it has “been very successful in defeating legislation that would have severely curtailed hunting rights and negatively impacted vast tracts of hunting habitat” as part of its “mission” to ‘protect hunters’ rights’. It also says providing funds for “mission-driven [conservation] programs annually” is a part of its core remit. Furthermore, it lists “education” as part of its mission, such as outreach programmes that “introduce shooting and hunting to youth, women and others”.

Safari Club International (SCI) says its primary missions “are to protect the freedom to hunt and to promote wildlife conservation”.

In the addendum, Dickman said that the funding for the Ruaha Carnivore Project from the DSC and SCI occurred more than five years ago and represented less than 1% of the overall funding for the project.

She told The Canary in a statement:

we have always been fully transparent regarding our funding and affiliations, and acted in the same way with Science. We responded and gave them all the information they wanted as soon as they had this new policy in place.

In a previous communication, she also said:

we [WildCru] are very clear that we do not receive funding with any strings attached, and our conclusions and outputs will always be based on evidence rather than our individual opinions or those of our funders.

Rosie Cooney and Dilys Roe, meanwhile, explained that they are “past and current Chair of IUCN [the International Union for the Conservation of Nature] Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi)”. They explained that it doesn’t have “core funding” from hunting interests but it does receive “<5% project funding from hunting-related sources”. Furthermore, they said that:

SULi co-convened a meeting in 2018 that received funding from a wide range of hunting and nonhunting-related organizations, including Safari Club International Foundation, Wild Sheep Foundation, the Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club, and a member of The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation delegation.

The disclosure also detailed that author Maxi Pia Louis “is affiliated with the Namibian Association of CBNRM (Community-based natural resource management) Support Organizations” (NACSO). As the CBTH detailed in its dossier, NACSO has published the vast list of trophy hunting companies it had as “hunting partners” in 2014/15.

The final author, Johnson, said he has “no competing interests”. He’s a research fellow at WildCru like Dickman.

Transparency

As Science‘s decision highlights, it’s important that people understand the potentially competing interests of authors of published science-based work on trophy hunting and other issues.

The changes Science has made will ensure that readers do know that across the board with its publications. It should be congratulated for making that move.

Featured image via YouTube – National Geographic

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  • Show Comments
    1. This article has more neck than a giraffe. The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting badgered Science mag because a tiny percentage of a letter’s authors had themselves accepted a tiny percentage of garnts in the past from hunting based organisations. The fact that 0.002% of the sources of the writers’ grants once came from hunting organisations does not prove that the authors were biased – it merely states where a tiny percentage of grants came from. Of course Science mag responded scientifically and clarified the situation.
      However, the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting is not a science -based organisation. It is not even a charity. It is a company registered in the UK that sells Teeshirts and collects lots of donations by misleading the public, using emotive animal rights messages to do so. It is the brainchild of Mr Goncalves who is the ex-CEO of the League against Cruel Sports – he is not a scientist.
      Animal rights is an interesting theoretical exercise but it has no place in any real-world issues dealing with real outcomes. To use animal rights as a position to challenge scientists and real conservationists is laughable.

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